The Unknown

The unknown stalks the maidservant’s life like a shadow that cannot be escaped. With every action around Mary Reilly, the author builds a question without an answer. The conflict bears a great deal on the story of Dr. Jekyll, but the tension rises from the unknown reasons for his dealings and their implications on Mary’s crumbling world.

Mary’s backstory is laid out in full display for the reader in the first seven pages. I believe this causes an unparalleled sympathy for her position and condition. Even here, the author uses the darkness of the closet, the bag thrown in with its unknown contents, and the trapped torture and carnage dealt by the ‘dog-sized’ rat to bring about a terror of, and abhorrence for the dealer, her father. This suppressed memory is used to great effect to carry the tension into Mary’s daily chores.

A counter to the weight of this nature comes from the revelation that Mary can read and write. Just as surprising as the treatment at the hands of her father, the author lays out details of Mary’s past that build a character that appears solid and grounded in her station, countenance, and fortitude, though, a bit anxious in her desire to be of greater importance to Dr. Jekyll. An example of her anxious boldness that brings about a misstep in her self-awareness, saying, “Mr. Poole, I can take the tray out now if you like and you can come behind with the claret.” (pg. 18)

The author’s description of the response does a great deal for the story in building the character of Mr. Poole and setting the tone for the expectations of position among the servants. “But he only stopped and gave me one of his cold, dead looks, like a fish’s eye when you know it’s none too fresh and said, “Mary, you know Dr. Jekyll forbids anyone but me to go to the cabinet door. I wonder you could forget this simple direction.” (pg. 18) Mary’s character is further developed as she speaks boldly in conversation with Dr. Jekyll, despite her attempts to keep her boldness in check. “You do put things strongly, Mary.” (pg. 46) Dr. Jekyll brings it out through conversation, causing mixed emotions for Mary with recreating a sense of mental insecurity that manifests in her curiosity to the point of making her paranoid.

The unknown brings itself to bear again and again in ways that build the tension for Mary and her connectedness with Dr. Jekyll. The unknown person lurking about the drawing room, the reason for Dr. Jekyll’s letters to Mrs. Farraday, and the bloody sheets in her room. What could it possibly mean to find a handkerchief there embroidered with HJ?

Farrago

The Broadview edition says farrago means – confused mixture, mess. Yes. Yes, this story by Robert Louis Stevenson is just that. The insanity of Henry Jekyll is questioned as the author paints him in a sickly light. Could there have been any other explanation for the mysterious turns that ailed him, found him seemingly restored for a couple of months, and fallen again to a ruinous state of health?

Author to Author

As a reference to the women of the time, the idea of the disappearing ink fits as a symbolic view to a woman’s place in society. In certain instances, women were influential in the lives of men, but like the parchment, the marks were hidden from view. The men made their marks and displays of life evident as they wrote in visible ink on the same paper. Was this an intentional reference by the author?

Then, as men do, the author turns the story around and Tobias Oates destroys his own work. With this action, the author creates a situation that not only erases Tobias’ contemplations of Maggs, but creates a false sense of security that he has hidden the truth.

The papers being destroyed in the fire are juxtaposed with the destruction of the women’s lives through their deeds; taking matters into their own hands. Two other places the author uses as a parallel display of tension, come from, first, Tobias has Maggs hypnotized, take off his shirt, and leaves him in the room by himself, and second, when Tobias is not present as Jack is confronted by Mr. Phipps with a gun. The truth of the situation is hidden by the author, from the author (Tobias), as the intended audience threatens to kill an author.

My what tangled webs we weave.

Disappearing Ink

Why does Jack Maggs use disappearing ink? After all, he is found out through the hypnotic meetings with Tobias Oates. The author seems to be laying down a line of thought of his own with the action.

The pages show Jack Maggs’ thoughts and give a lot of backstory for his character that fit well, but it is my opinion that the author should not use this device in the story. The bits that are given read like a diary and this brutish character is not the sort of man to do such a thing, in my opinion.

With deferment to my bias, the disappearing ink is like the hallmarks of his life. Jack Maggs, like the ink, is a character that is mostly absent in the story of Great Expectations. Like the pattern that Jack writes, his life is backwards in the sense that his fortune comes after being released from prison. Likewise, his purpose of the expectations is oblivious to those that receive them. And, in the end, the picture he wishes to relay is all backwards to those people he intends to impress.

This device of reflection used by the author makes the whole of the story a farce. In my opinion.

Snoozed

The Jack Maggs we see here is a man of another creation than the one of its founding from Great Expectations. Why does Jack seem different?

The author deals with Jack in finite strokes of world building. The beginning sees Jack as much the same brutish character from Great Expectations, despite the finer dressing, when he grabs the porter tightly by the shoulder blade. But then, the story plods along a different path. Details of Jack’s perspective give a new light to his character through plotting to meet Mr. Phipps, his predicament of remaining in London undiscovered, and the revelations of his backstory.

The story played out in Jack’s personal interests follows the linage of his desire to meet Mr. Phipps. The author uses this story line in a way that shows Jack in a more civil and remorseful state than one expected of a former convict. The use of civility becomes entangled with Jack’s limited patience and habitual charisma of physical stature. The tension rises with an ebb and flow when his temper flares and seems to put Jack in jeopardy of being exposed. The addition of Mercy getting into his business is a nice touch to tone down the manliness of the tension. Through this line of interest to meet Mr. Phipps, we also learn a great deal of backstory that would be lost in the other lines I propose.

An additional story is present in the scenes that Jack plays his role as a footman. The job is taken with an unexpected turn of events that benefits his purpose, but is used to great effect by the author as a sidestep from the directness of the storyline to meet Phipps. The tension is ratcheted up in this manner through many possible subversions that threaten to derail Jack’s mission. Constable is, at first, a constant source of irritating and obnoxious behavior that deserves a punch in the face. The author uses Constable with superb effect in showing how tolerable Jack will be in order to complete his mission.

Finally, Jacks backstory is coxed out of his subconscious through Tobias’ use of hypnotism. Quite interestingly, the physical appearance of Jack is marred by the additional detail that he is missing two middle fingers on one hand. The twitching of Jack’s face is a character flaw used to propel the story forward and involve Tobias Oates. This display is a great tension builder that keeps the reader on edge, wondering if the demons will be gotten rid of, and Jack’s potential capture. A well devised story becomes pivoted in a sense by hitting the snooze button.

Gentelman Pip

The societal class of a gentleman is a controversial topic at the time Dickens writes Great Expectations. So, how does the filtered voice of Pip show the conundrum people made of the matter? A major study beyond the scope of this post might explore how we are to see the stakes presented in Great Expectations. Alternatively, on a minute scale, the text gives plenty of context and contrast to make this argument of what beholds a gentleman come to life. Through the bias of the author’s desire to be called a gentleman, Pip is a true captain of the vessel.

The craft of writing a gentlemanly character probably came second nature to Dickens due to his own chronological placement in history. Attributes that Pip displays, his personal knowledge of his societal placement by birth, the environmental conditions and social inadequacies are put on full display for the reader to understand the intentional starkness of separation.

An example, [“Whom have we here?” (Jaggers) … “A boy,” said Estella. “Boy of the neighborhood? Hey” said he. … “Well! Behave yourself.” (p. 117)] The answer given by Estella is a degradation of personage given on the heels of another social slight by the adults in attendance, “…they all looked at me with the utmost contempt,” (p. 116). The address given by Jaggers is equally degrading as he infers that ‘boys of the neighborhood’ do not know how to behave properly in the society of the higher classes.

In the third volume, Dickens presents the wonderment of Pip as an unobserved reaction when Magwitch presents himself as Pip’s benefactor. In the historical context of the novel, Magwitch being unobserving of Pip’s trembling at his presence may well be intentional by Dickens. The purpose of the omission shows how a gentleman is known to show true sensitivities, hence Magwitch’s lack of reaction. In the Broadview appendix C, a gentleman of pure breeding is arguably superior in sensitivity to those of mixed heritage. “…fineness of structure in the body, which renders it capable of the most delicate, sympathies” (p. 565).

Dickens shows the contrast between the higher class and common folk as given great weight by one’s actions rather than breeding. The images of Mrs. Havisham’s actions are far from a sensitive nature. Dickens gives Pip equality to the higher class in this, and many other, ways. An example of Mrs. Havisham’s character, “But perhaps you can never believe, now, that there is anything human in my heart?” (p. 419)

Therefore, the image of Pip is elevated as one of a gentleman in the end of the novel when Dickens has Pip and Estella meet in the dilapidated garden of the old house. Estella is an heiress of familial fortune, though, it is known now that she is not of a higher society’s definition of pure bred. Pip is not wealthy, a working man, a noble endeavor to not be an idle person of wealth, as is the ‘code’ of a true gentleman. In this way, I believe, Dickens intends to show that the Estella and Pip can be elevated with her wealth and there gentile manners to that of higher society as defined by those outside of a pure bred culture.

Gentleman, Pip.

From Coals to Ashes

There is a waning of conditions for Pip in London. Whatever could be imagined as high society, London is made out to be quite the opposite. With great labor the reader is enticed to believe all the hubbub of wealth and living arrangements are laid out before Pip in a straight fashion; the money flashed at Joe as a gift and given to Pip for new clothes, the great house of Miss Havisham, and promise of a tutor in the manners to be displayed by a gentleman.

The interesting descriptions of the Havisham estate are puzzling at first. The purpose is unclear as to why the Lady of the estate has such a fancy to bring Pip to ‘play’ there. When Miss Havisham says things to Estella like, “You will break his heart,” one can gain a perspective of evil contrivance. Then, she takes a liking to Pip. Though the circumstance might seem to have changed, as if Pip had fallen into favor with Miss Havisham, the grimness of her awful smile as he kissed her hand lies tales of another sort.

The bumbling awkwardness of giving a shake to Pip for his good fortune and new position was beyond any over indulgence than I could ever imagine. Giving Pip the ‘boot,’ as he left, Joe and Biddy surely gave him the cheerful remembrance of a true nature, though he showed disdain at the time, thankful that the display did not happen at the coach house.

All in all, the deathly state of affairs is portrayed when Pip arrived at his new abode. The author describes the place in terms of graveyard, and other unlikeable things in any way that does not persuade one to believe that good should come of it. The banishment of hope for the truth in the endeavor to becoming a gentleman is what I discerned from it. Pip thought he wanted to be greater than a blacksmith among coals, but comes into the rubbish heap of London and the ashes of dreams.

Don’t you know, Pip?

The wonder of a boy at an early age is a wonderful thing. Charles Dickens captures a magical and dangerous tale in a Walt Disney fashion; actually, the fashion of Disney was influenced by writers such as Dickens. The best parts of any story are the ones that catch the reader by surprise, though it was no surprise to the reader when Joe posed the question titling this post.

When the boy, Pip, goes along his way, the world comes alive and animated in his imagination with talking cows, personified noises, and vivid characters. While I read, it was a marvelous adventure to see what would happen next. The writing style is masterful with multi-syllable words that require a dictionary for the average modern reading level of sixth grade. But even so, they seem to fit well enough for anyone to imagine the meaning.

The consciousness of Pip’s tale generates a comical read and one that inspires me to think of careful ways to engage the reader as a wordsmith.

Asunder

In chapter twenty-five, Jane seems to suffer from another mental breakdown as she waits for Mr. Rochester to return to Thornshead from his business the night before their wedding. The imagery is very telling of Jane’s inner struggle with self-identity and how to relate to the coming change.

As Jane goes out into the weather, she seeks the walnut tree that is split down the middle. The tree is dead, but still in one piece at the base. This imagery plays well on the context of Jane’s inner feelings. She feels dead inside and without hope of a fruitful future. She seems torn asunder like the tree, unsure of whom she will become. The thought of Mrs. Rochester is as dead to her as the past versions of herself that seem to change with each setting.

In contrast, Jane gathers apples fell by the strong winds. She separates the good ones and places them in the storehouse. Jane wishes to gather all of her best memories and keep them safely stored. The others are wishfully tossed out.

Then, there is the blood moon. Could the author be hinting at the moment to come when Jane loses her virginity? It is a fleeting moment and well placed in the context of the unchanging wind, bending the trees without relief. She sees the wedding dress like a wraith in the closet. The idea that she refuses to label her trunks for their transfer to London affirms her disbelief of happiness.

“…I would wait to be assured she had come into the world alive, before I assigned to her all that property.” Property could also be symbolic of her commitment within her own character.

The madness of her impatience drives her out into the weather. The same can be said of her personality. She is driven into the madness of disbelief and uncertainty of her world as real or imagined. When she meets Mr. Rochester on the road, she seems overly gushing with the welcomed reception.

The following conversation between Jane and Rochester almost seems authentic. The description in my mind’s eye finds the exorbitant feelings of happiness a bit higher than I could imagine after a fiancé finds his bride-to-be on the road in the middle of a storm.

I am not sure of Mr. Rochester’s reaction to her story of the ‘vampire.’ Is he genuinely alarmed at the possibility of an encounter with the undead creature? He tells her to sleep with Adele and lock the door from the inside. But yet, he dismisses her descriptions with a believable version of her half-dream as the presence of Ms. Poole.

When will she wake up? Who will she wake up as?

No Break Brontë – Jane Eyre

“Who would think that the Evil One had already found a servant and agent in her? Yet such, I grieve to say, is the case.” (p. 129) No breaks for the underdog. That is the sum of my conclusion on both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The prose is exacting of a dismal and depressing sort. My mind is turned in awful ways that I think I should reject the assignment given to me by my betters. The author’s influence reaches deeply, even now, into my choice of words that I scrawl here, heavy laden in their gothic style as it were.

What possesses an author to delve into such a dismal story? The psychological dystopia displayed in the Brontë’s works must certainly be taxing on the author. Was it so commonplace in their time to spin dramatic webs as they did, comparative to our modern forms of entertainment, or were the authors’ works of a caliber that sets them apart from commonplace literature?

Despite the answer to the above questions, one thing is certain; the protagonist of Brontë is beaten down in a heavy-handed dose of undue ire. With Jane Eyre as main character and narrator, the reader is dredged through abuse and wrongful conclusions under the circumstances. Or, might the circumstances revealed to the reader be skewed by the main character’s bias as the chosen narrator?

There are hints of circumstantial forgery in such passages as when Jane is stricken with a book by John. It seems as though the whole picture is not given a fair interpretation. What would possess John to simply stick out his tongue at Jane? Any answer would still need justification as to why would he continue to do so for ‘two or three minutes?’ I have three children of my own and one thing I have learned, actions are typically solicited and met with reactions of some sort.

The reaction Jane has when John comes over and picks her up by her hair seems to be a lashing out that causes him injury. Jane was apparently unaware of exactly what her hands did. In several places Jane exclaims that the actions seemed unlike her, as if someone else were speaking, and inward reflections hint at her true feelings of shame for her actions or thoughts. On page 73, Jane sits reflecting on her actions and among them reveals a trait of self-doubt.

The rest of the story may yield further insight, but I have reason to believe that Jane is not as much the victim as the narration bares witness.

High Strung

High Strung

Why would Nelly Dean torture herself to stay at Wuthering Heights?

Of the characters in Nelly Dean beyond those in Bronte’s novel, I believe Nelly’s mother is most influential. The nature of the other characters’ interactions with Nelly is better displayed in this context. Where Bronte’s narrator ventures across the gothic evils of the characters and their contrivances, Case takes a higher road to the same effect.

Case’s novel has humor well placed to lighten the otherwise darker picture formerly painted in Wuthering Heights. After the sobering truth Hindley spoke about his drinking problem, Nelly was saddened. Then, Hindley chases her down. “ ‘Hey, Nelly,’ he cried, ‘remember this?’ Then he stretched his face into a solemn scowl and began sawing at an imaginary fiddle while his legs danced wildly beneath him, as he had done on that long-ago night. I laughed and clapped.” (p. 442) The effect creates a realistic longing any half-hearted human should have to bring joy to those around an individual despite his/her own problems. It is a reminder to remember the good times we have with friends and loved ones after they have passed.

Then, there is the tension, the largest difference in the two novels. As Nelly seemed like the rock that forded the storms in Bronte’s story, she was battered and shipwrecked against her own fortitude in Case’s version.

I find fault in Case’s novel at the start when Nelly’s mother speaks with Mr. Earnshaw in his office while Nelly listened. Her mother’s stammer at the word of Heathcliff to be treated as a blood relative gave me the immediate inclination that she had an affair with Earnshaw, with Nelly as the result. Which, in the end is true, and the reason for Nelly’s abuse at the hand of her ‘father.’ This seemed neatly packaged for Nelly’s mother being blood relations in a distant past relative.

I cannot say that I saw the end coming, though. In both books, the troubles begin with the arrival of Heathcliff. And, both have a happy ending for the main character that the narrator follows; in Bronte’s novel, Hareton marries Cathy, and in Case’s novel, Nelly is finally married and happy. The award for the largest twist and out of left field ending is certainly to Case’s Nelly Dean.

Nelly was strung along through the whole story, thinking she was a servant housekeeper, undeserving of Hindley. She threw herself into caring for the children that came along and finally collapsed in the end. Bodkin calling her illness the lifting of the weight of the world from her shoulders, like Atlas holds. That was certainly another light moment, but I felt it slightly contrived for her to go off on vacation, certainly well deserved goes without saying.

All told, I certainly enjoyed this novel and the more modern language compared to Wuthering Heights.

Shelf Life

How long can cares be put on hold?

When someone encounters a problem, a choice must be made in dealing with the circumstances. Within the setting of Nelly Dean is a class system that dictates social expectations. Case, the author, despite those delineations of character portrayal, generates an authentic language and disposition within the society of Wuthering Heights that plays out the dramatic tension of such an arrangement as this.

The ebb and flow of dramatic tension is interspersed in differing ways in the text, and in my opinion, more effectively than Bronte’s story. One such example is Nelly hiding from her father. Nelly’s mother finally comes straight out and addresses Nelly’s fear with him and encourages both parties to make amends. This setup is certainly paid off with the show of affection to Nelly and the subsequent death of her father before she arrives to see him. As a reader, I felt satisfied to find the payoff come sooner than later, or not at all. I certainly did not get that sense of satisfaction while reading Wuthering Heights.

The tension of Nelly’s relationship with her mom builds up as Nelly subjectively edits what is read to Mrs. Earnshaw and written in reply to Nelly. The payoff comes soon enough as Mary arrives to visit Mrs. Earshaw in her last days. Which, pleasantly, leads into more dramatic tension between the kids as Mrs. Earnshaw tells the story of Mary coming to Wuthering Heights to nurse Hindley.

The issue of Nelly and Hindley’s secret pregnancy is left in preservation “on the shelf” for too long. The dramatic tension creates a true linear plot of Hindley’s absence, Nelly’s miscarriage, and the shocking introduction of Francis as Hindley returns.

Another point is when Nelly said she came to regret what happened in the fairy cave. That was a bit of a shock to me, but it led directly to the payoff of the tension when Hindley catches on that she is pregnant.

Overall, I believe the Nelly Dean novel uses this literary device in an effective manor. If Wuthering Heights points of dramatic tension were items on a shelf, reading the book would be like picking up random items that may or may not make sense and some that are ‘unlabeled.’ In my opinion, Case effectively makes the plot points stay within the “shelf life” of the story unlike the long and drawn out novel by Bronte.